Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayer: A Happy New Year

The New Year is quickly approaching. I am sitting at my desk with several tasks ahead of me. A plan for the year ahead and taxes are at the top of that list. As I weigh my options, it is crystal clear that looking ahead to the New Year will take priority. Each year I reflect on the year that just passed and what I had hoped and planned for. Did I accomplish goals that were set? What do I still need to work on? How am I doing? I pull up the plan for the past year to guide me into and through this process for the coming year. I am amazed at my findings. God has truly blessed and has accomplished so much. I take a moment to thank God and to pray for His next adventures for the year ahead. “This is much better than taxes,” I think to myself.

Planning for the New Year can be a daunting undertaking. I always worry that I am not being realistic in the goals that I am setting. Am I over challenging myself? Am I underachieving? Do I shoot for smaller goals so that I can feel successful when I find myself back here next year? If I am honest with myself and this process, I press my limits and my list looks more like a list of dreams than goals. I always think back to that old saying that says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I don’t want that. I want this year to count for something. I want it to matter. I don’t want to waste life or time. I want to honor God, but how?

What is God’s will for us in the New Year? What does God want from us/for us? These are great questions . . . for Him. Prayer gets us the answers that we seek. God’s desire and will for us is to connect with Him in such a way that we find Him and know how to follow God in the year to come. Prayer is a relationship with the author of life. Prayer is more than simply talking at God; it is also listening for God’s next for our lives. As we consider the New Year, I wonder what it is that God has for us. What is God’s plan?

As I consider these questions, and sit down to plan out the coming year, I am thinking about Paul’s words to the Colossians in chapter 1, verses 9-12. In these verses Paul expresses his prayers for the church at Colosse:

“Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us (Peterson).”

As the New Year arrives at our doorstep, I echo Paul’s prayer for us. I hope that we are filled with God’s wisdom and are attuned to His will and that we, without a doubt, come into a deep understanding of how God works. I hope that this coming year is filled with opportunities to live well for the Master and to make Him proud of what we do in His orchard. I pray that we continue to learn and do our work well. I look to a New Year filled with strength, vision, endurance, joy, thanksgiving, and purpose. May this year hold for us everything that is bright and beautiful that God has for us.

Praying into a New Year,


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thank You

There was a Citigroup commercial a while back that I still think about and laugh at often. The premise of this commercial is that gratitude and appreciation goes a long way. Citigroup’s slogan is “Live richly” and Citigroup has realized that business and money is not what allows a person to live richly. There is something more; there is something about gratitude. In the commercial one woman meets another woman in the grocery store and thinks that she is pregnant, when in reality she is not. She says to the woman, “You must be having a boy.” The other woman says, “What! I am not pregnant!” Embarrassed, the other woman simply says, “Thank you.” At this the woman melts with joy and the two women hug. She is so overcome with gratitude that she was told “Thank you,” that she forgets all about the awkward interaction between the two of them. The commercial implies that no matter what happens, a simple thank you will fix it. It does not matter if you said something stupid, or made a huge mistake. If you just said to the wronged person, “Thank you,” all would be forgiven and all would be good. Gratitude is powerful and impacts our lives and allows us to live richly. Citigroup knows this and expresses this in their ad campaign.

There is an old expression that says, “Gratitude affects your attitude.” Something does change inside of us if we have grateful hearts toward God and others. We have so much and are so blessed. However, our temptation is much like the temptation of the woman in the commercial. We take immediate offense to any and every way that we are wronged. We look to the flaws and faults of our lives and the lives of others. We move away from the gratitude that will free us, and we are free, especially as followers of Jesus. Jesus says, in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").” We have reason to be grateful. We are liberated in Christ Jesus. We can always utter the words “Thank you.” All is well. We can and do live richly as followers of Jesus. Money does not buy that, and Citigroup cannot give this to you, but Jesus has allowed us to live richly by giving us His riches.

In Colossians 1:3-5, Paul expresses his gratitude toward the church at Colosse.

“Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can’t quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope (Peterson).”

Paul is grateful for the church in Colosse and he prays for them with gratitude and praises them for their steady faith in Jesus, for their love for other Christians, and their purpose filled lives. This is how we should be as the church. We are to be a grateful people because of the work that Jesus is doing in each of us and through each of us. We should be a praying people, encouraging the work of Christ in each of us, and in the ministry that He has us doing. We have so much to be grateful for.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul echoes his and our need for dependence on prayer and for gratitude. He says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you ("The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version").” Have you ever thought, “Man, I wish I knew God’s will for my life. I wish I knew how to live richly.” Good news is here for you. God wants you to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to be thankful. This is God’s will for you.

Now, go and live richly, with gratitude, prayer, and thanksgiving, keeping in mind Paul’s words to the Colossians and Thessalonians.

Thank You!


"The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marched Naked in the Street

“If at first you Do succeed, try something harder (Gookin).” -Ann Landers

“Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true (Gookin).” -John Keats

Have you ever tried to prove yourself to someone? We all want to be successful, don’t we? Maybe, like me, you went to school with a bunch of cool kids that all hung out together and seemed to have everything else together as well. They had the girlfriends, the talent, the looks; you know the type. These were the kids with the high GPAs, who played sports, and were on the debate team. You wanted to be like them. You wanted to have what they had and you wanted to do what they did.

Maybe you are completely secure and confident and are one of the cool kids and are saying, “Hey that’s me!” If so, great, but most likely you have still tried to prove yourself to someone at some point in your life. It might be that in your accomplishments are you trying to prove yourself to your parents, teachers, friends, or coaches. You might even be attempting to prove yourself to yourself. After all, you want to know that you have what it takes and that you are worthy of love, affection, and attention. We all want that. Do we deserve it though? Does anyone? Can we achieve love and acceptance?

The Hebrews, the Jews from the Old Testament, were identified as being God’s chosen people. You can’t be anymore successful than that. They were born into Judaism and through the mark of circumcision, were marked as God’s own. That’s right; the cutting off of the foreskin of the male penis was what marked one as a child of God. This was an initiation rite that was a sign that you were in, you had made it. If you were a child of Abraham, the father of all Jews, you were circumcised. That’s just how it was. See, this was the symbol that you were in the God Club. You were in the in crowd! You were then called to follow the law to the letter and not to sin so that you could stay in the God Club by being good. “But what about our non-circumcised brothers and what about the sisters?” you ask. I am with you. The non-circumcised were the Gentiles, or the non-Jews, and the women were the second class. The non-circumcised were not considered children of Abraham and they were not considered children of God.

In the early church, everyone was arguing about whether or not you had to be circumcised to be a follower of Christ. Circumcision was part of following the whole law, which was the old way to be in the God Club, or the in crowd. Jews and Gentiles were being converted to Christianity. The only problem with this is the fact that Gentiles were becoming followers of Christ and they had not been circumcised. The Jewish converts to Christianity wanted the Gentiles to adopt religious customs of following the law by being circumcised. The Jews were still trying to earn or achieve their place.

Circumcision has more to do with being Jewish than being Christian. The request of the Jews for the Gentiles to be circumcised was not a rational request. Paul wrote to the Colossian church to question why the Christians there were going backwards by acting so religious and Jewish when God had done something completely new in His Son, which took the burden off of them completely. God had invited everyone into the God Club without a cover charge. He had proclaimed, “Everyone is in!” Everyone! The Jew and the Gentile alike, all sinners, are in!

Paul says this best and gives this instruction to his readers, in Colossians 2: 11-15:

“Entering into this (God’s) fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets (Peterson).”

Jesus unraveled the shame of the cool, the un-cool, and the un-popular, all of us. He paraded our sin and shame, and all the expectations piled on us by ourselves, religion, and its leaders. God did this by taking our failures and inadequacies on Himself. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe (including our selves) of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets before everyone. We do not have to be ashamed and exposed for not keeping their heavy burdens. God exposed that we could not keep the law, He exposed our self righteousness and the self righteousness of the religious leaders, and He exposed the cool kids as not being so cool after all. His message is clear. Everyone who looks to Him and accepts what He has done for them is in the God Club. You do not have to do anything. You don’t have to be the coolest, the cleanest, the best dressed, or the most popular. You don’t need to have it all together. Your spiritual GPA does not matter. It does not matter if you play sports or get into the cool clubs with all the cool people. It does not matter what your extracurricular activities are, and Jesus doesn’t care what college you are going to, or all that you have done, or how much money you make. We just accept what He has done for us and we are in. Wow!

Exposed, shameless, and belonging, because of Christ bearing my sin and shame,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Wisdom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.